In a simple past, corporal punishment at the kgotla (customary court) or in schools was quite simple. The kgotla (plural; dikgotla) had ample supply of moretlwa canes that in some cases would be buried in dried cow dung in the cattle kraal next to the kgotla. This was meant to keep the canes supple and whippy and thus more likely to be more effective as instruments of behaviour modification. Judicial corporal punishment was administered by local police officers and at least one would acquire village-wide reputation for being uncommonly skilled with the cane. In schools, teachers harvested canes in on-campus bushes and likewise, one or two (often sadistic) teachers would acquire school-wide reputation of said manner.
In a complicated today, corporal punishment is a project-managed task that includes medical doctors (in the case of the kgotla) and is limited to certain teachers in the case of schools. Conditions under which judicial corporal punishment can be administered are set out in the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act. Section 305 of this Act says that the caning shall be carried out in a manner and with a cane type approved by the minister and that no caning shall be administered on anyone unless he has been certified fit for such punishment by a medical officer. The Education Regulations say that in a school setting, punishment shall be administered either by the headmaster or by some other teacher in the presence of the headmaster; no instrument of punishment other than a light cane shall be used and no punishment shall exceed 10 strokes; and no male teacher may inflict corporal punishment upon any girl whom he has grounds for believing is over the age of 10 years.
When members of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Review of the Constitution of Botswana went around the country last year, a good many people advocated for the reinstatement of old-style corporal punishment.
“There were views that indiscipline among young people had increased significantly, leading to abuse of parents, belligerence to teachers and abuse of drugs. In their view, this is due to controlled/prohibited corporal punishment in schools, homes and customary courts. It was therefore proposed that corporal punishment in schools should be reinstated and further, that lashing of criminals and misbehaving people on the back should be reintroduced,” reads the Report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Review of the Constitution of Botswana.
Years ago, Kgosi Tapson Jackalas, then a member of Ntlo ya Dikgosi, proposed that the age limit to be corporally punished at the kgotla (it is currently 40 years) should be increased because most assault cases at customary courts involve people above 40. Many more people expressed the same view during the Commission’s public hearings: “It was emphasised that corporal punishment in dikgotla should be extended to include woman and men up to the age of 60 years.”
In the Report, the Commission recommends that old-style corporal punishment should be reintroduced in schools and that lashing of criminals on the bare back should also be reintroduced at dikgotla “in accordance with acceptable traditional practices.” The Report also recommends that “lashing on the back should include both men and women, up to the age of 50 years.”
Under intense pressure from the west, the government has incrementally weakened the severity (and effectiveness) of corporal punishment. However, there is intense pushback from members of the public who are convinced that corporal punishment is an effective behaviour modification technique. Calls for the reinstatement of old-style corporal punishment have become even more strident as student indiscipline gets out of hand. As Sunday Standard has reported in the past, in some cases male teachers are the victims of physical violence meted out by male students.
In the first case, a male student at Madiba Senior Secondary School in Mahalapye assaulted a male teacher in full view of other students. In the second, a student who had kicked a teacher told a consequent disciplinary hearing that he couldn’t understand what the fuss was all about because he had actually missed his target. “I wanted to castrate him but I missed,” he said nonchalantly. In the third, a notorious gang at Moshupa Senior Secondary School plotted to murder a teacher.
Part of what motivates those who want the reinstatement of old-style corporal punishment is evidence that it has actually worked. A teacher at Molefi Senior Secondary School says that a time that Kgosi Kgafela’s age-regiments started curbing lawlessness in the Kgatleng District, there was a lot of lawlessness at the school. Soon thereafter, school management established a pipeline to the kgotla through which lawless students were immediately delivered for caning on the bare back. A month after the regiments’ campaign started, indiscipline at the school was limited to infractions like late-coming and noise-making during study time.
Within the Ministry of Educations and Skills Development itself, there are officials who believe that corporal punishment is more effective than guidance and counselling. It turns out that the Ministry has given a wink and a nod to schools that quietly send wayward students to dikgotla for Kgafela-style punishment. Sunday Standard made this discovery in 2020 and was told by the Batlokwa Deputy Kgosi, Spokes Gaborone, that the Tlokweng kgotla has handled student indiscipline cases from Gaborone Senior Secondary School, Naledi Senior Secondary School, Nanogang Junior Secondary School and Bonnington Junior Secondary School – all in Gaborone. While cagey with some precise details, Gaborone said that the corporal punishment meted out at the kgotla is done in accordance with the law, is administered by the culprits’ male relatives (like uncles) and in the presence of police officers. Thankfully, a source at the Tlokweng kgotla revealed that most of the culprits already look terrified when they arrive at the kgotla.
“Most are spoiled brats who basically run their households and are used to doing whatever and wherever with impunity. It is only now that they are being introduced to real punishment and know that unlike in school or at home, they can’t get their way,” said the source.
On the other hand, corporal punishment is vehemently opposed by western-financed human and child rights organisations – which opposition the Report acknowledges.
“Those opposed to corporal punishment submitted that the punishment is inhumane and degrading and should therefore be abolished,” the Report says.
If the government adopts the Commission’s recommendations, some criminally enterprising Batswana will be able to trick their way into one First World country whose overly generous laws confer eligibility for refugee protection on those at the risk of being corporally punished. As we have reported in the past, some clued-up Batswana (and Namibians who unlawfully hold Botswana passports) have taken full advantage of these laws to seek asylum in Canada. Those who qualify for this protection are called “convention refugees” and are defined as “people who are outside their home country or the country where they normally live, and who are unwilling to return because of a well-founded fear of persecution.”